During the hack, the SEA, an infamous group of hackers that supports embattled Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, criticized Barca’s sponsorship agreement with Qatar, repeatedly tweeting:
“Dear FC Barcelona management, don’t let the Qatari money funds you, it’s full of blood and kill (sic).”
— SyrianElectronicArmy (@Official_SEA16) February 19, 2014
— Techworm (@Techworm_in) February 19, 2014
Combined, the three Barca accounts have more than 20 million Twitter followers. The Spanish and Catalonian-language Twitter handles were only taken over for about 10 minutes, while it the English-language account took a bit longer to recover, Goal.com reports.
The attack comes a day after Qatar Airways flew its first airplane – a Boeing 777 – adorned in Barca colors to Doha. The team has been sporting the national carrier’s logo on its jerseys since August, as part of a five-year sponsorship agreement with Qatar Sports Investment.
Previously, Qatar Foundation was the team’s main global sponsor.
Last fall, during the transfer of sponsorship, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told journalists that the airline “would be displaying Barca at all the world’s major airports.”
FC Barcelona is expected to receive some $45 million a season to sport Qatar Airways’ logo through 2016.
History of attacks
This is not the first time the SEA has targeted Qatar, which the group has tried to punish for its support of rebels inside of Syria and calls for Al Assad to resign.
Last October, the group apparently took control of Qatar’s .QA domain and shut down several government websites, including the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Education Council and the Emiri Diwan.
Also last year, it hacked the Doha-based and Qatar-funded Al Jazeera, among several other of the world’s most popular news organizations.
In the wake of attacks like these, Qatar has been seeking to bolster its cyber security.
Part of those efforts involve the passage of a new cybercrime law that is primarily focused on preventing online fraud and attacks on computer networks.
The legislation received approval from both the Cabinet and the Advisory Council this month, and awaits the Emir’s signature. Free speech advocates are closely watching the law because it may also contain broader provisions governing what people can post online.